"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Body in the Hayrick

"Ottawa Journal," May 16, 1936, via Newspapers.com

If this goofy little blog of mine has a theme, it would be, "Life is weird." It fascinates me to find so many cases where utterly normal people are going about their utterly normal lives one moment, and in the next moment are suddenly plunged head-first into High Strangeness--often, permanently.

Take the now-forgotten case of Thomas Patteson Moss.

Moss was one of those people who seemed destined for a golden life. He was born into a wealthy and influential Canadian family. His father, John H. Moss, was a well-known Toronto barrister, and his grandfather had been Chief Justice of Ontario. His maternal grandfather, Thomas Patteson, was postmaster of Toronto, as well as the founder of the Ontario Jockey Club and editor of the "Toronto Mail." On both sides, Moss had a lineage both accomplished and highly respectable.

After being educated in his home country, Moss temporarily relocated to England. He began studying law at Oxford, after which he planned to return to Canada and be called to the Ontario bar. His classmates described Moss as likable, intelligent, and responsible: in the words of one friend, he was "an exceedingly fine and quiet young man, interested in his studies." Another contemporary later wrote of Moss, "I have a vivid impression of him from the few times when I did meet him. He was above all a scholar in the truest sense, and besides mastering his own subjects, he read a good deal and was a very interesting and amusing talker...He had a most lovable character." By all accounts, he was a sober, honest youth, not given to late hours or dissipation of any sort.

In 1936, the twenty-one year-old Moss was in his third year of studies at Balliol College. His time there was happy and successful, and the youth was looking forward to returning home and beginning what everyone assumed would be a fine legal career. To put it briefly, all seemed well.

At about 10:30 p.m. on the night of May 14, a friend saw Moss walking along Broad Street, in the direction of his lodgings at Oxford's Holywell Manor House Hostel. He was in his usual good spirits, and gave no indication of anything unusual. There was nothing to suggest that he would never be seen alive again.

About five hours later, a farmer in Stadhampton, a small, isolated village about ten miles south-east of Oxford, observed a hayrick burning in a nearby field. When he and some neighbors went to investigate, something quite unexpected and extremely horrifying was found in the ashes: a corpse, so badly charred as to be completely unrecognizable. Bits of paper found in the pockets, as well as a leather belt with a name engraved on it, enabled authorities to tentatively identify the body as that of Thomas Patteson Moss.

The local police immediately realized they had something extremely bizarre on their hands, and promptly called in assistance from London. Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the renowned Home Office pathologist, was given the task of doing the post-mortem. After the examination, he announced that he was unable to find a cause of death. There were no drugs or poison found in the body. The arms and skull had been fractured, but Spilsbury believed that was due to the intense heat of the fire. He found no other signs of pre-fire injury to the corpse. Spilsbury was also of the opinion that Moss had been alive, but presumably unconscious, when the fire started

All the obvious questions were asked: Presuming this was indeed young Moss, what on earth was he doing in a hayrick in a remote hamlet so far from his residence? How did the fire break out? Was it a case of accident, suicide, or murder, and how on earth could one come up with a logical explanation for any of those three possibilities?

The inquest primarily concerned itself with identifying the body. Moss' dentist examined the corpse's teeth, and testified that a distinctive broken tooth was identical with one Moss had had for some years. Friends identified the surviving bits of clothing as belonging to Moss. The laundry mark on the clothing was also positively his. Moss' watch, with the hands stopped at 2:10 a.m., had been found near the corpse. By such means, it was proved to the coroner's satisfaction that they were indeed dealing with the body of Thomas Moss. The jury ruled that he died from asphyxiation, but there was no evidence to show how he met his end. The young man was dead. Answering the question of how he died, was, unfortunately, a much more difficult matter.

Scotland Yard was utterly stumped. A minute search of Moss' past showed nothing at all abnormal. He had a wide circle of friends, and no enemies. He dated a few girls, but none of the relationships were serious. He had no history of depression. The police felt confident in dismissing the possibility of foul play or suicide. They believed it was a case of accidental death. Their theory--inasmuch as they could be said to have had one--was that in the middle of the night, Moss took it into his head to make a very long walk along unfamiliar country lanes to an obscure hamlet he had never before visited and had no reason to visit, then settled down to take a nap inside a hayrick. The hay then mysteriously burst into flames, asphyxiating him in his sleep.

A scenario which, frankly, seemed even stranger than any murder plot could possibly have been.

Thomas Moss' friends and family had likely always imagined that after a long and stellar career at the bar, he would peacefully pass away at a ripe old age, and then given a suitably elaborate funeral. Instead, before his life could be said to have really begun, he was quietly buried at the parish churchyard in North Leach, Gloucestershire, amid an air of sinister mystery.

On June 4, Mr. A. Lett, the Coroner for South Oxfordshire, told a reporter that while there was nothing about Moss' death to indicate foul play, "That does not say it was an accidental death." He added, "I very much question whether we shall get to the bottom of it."

Unfortunately, Lett's prediction was entirely correct.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

It's time for the weekly Link Dump!

Let's dance!

Why the hell do ghosts wear clothes?

Watch out for the Cave of Death!

3,500 years of UFOs.

Have a bad cough?  Get the garlic and bacon ready!

If today's post just isn't enough for you, here's a theatrical link dump!

Just a reminder that Mozart could make today's most vulgar lyricists blush.

The internet's most mysterious song.

Diaries and sketchbooks as records of women's lives.

A mysterious ancient sword.

18th century female dentists.

So, you think Francis Drake landed in California?  Well, maybe not.

The woes of 19th century jurors.

The real-life adventures of the inspiration for a famous novel.

A look at the Thomas Cook company, which is now as dead as...Thomas Cook.

The outlaws of Inglewood Forest.

Ancient Egypt and Cinderella.

Theater censors in the 1930s.

Paris' 19th century Grief Factory.

When wearing mourning clothes can be overdone.

That time Jonathan Swift wrote advertising copy for wool.

The alchemy of gin.

When criminologists cook the books.

A particularly messy execution.

A mysterious attack in the Forest of Dean.

A medieval man's very bad historical "first."

Musical cheese.

This week's pro tip:  If a Greek revenant knocks on your door, don't answer.

The crimes of the Blonde Rattlesnake.

Venus might once have been habitable.

Autumn comes to Spitalfields.

This week in Russian Weird:  Russian Navy: 0  Walrus: 1.

Probably the world's most literary mastectomy.

A ghost and a lot of Thomases.

The crazy cat man of Forsyth Street.

The life of a medieval matriarch.

Fair warning: this is a story involving a sixty-foot snake.

WWI's haunted trenches.

How Celia Holloway came to be murdered by her husband.

That's it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at a young man's extremely weird end. In the meantime, Van Morrison closes out the first WLD of autumn 2019:

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

"Jackson's Oxford Journal," March 27, 1858, via Newspapers.com

The following is a remarkably clue-free poisoning mystery. "Jackson's Oxford Journal," April 3, 1858:
We last week recorded the death of Elizabeth, wife of Mr. John James, of Brize-Norton, and to-day our obituary contains a record of the death of the latter named person.

These two events, having taken place under very suspicious circumstances, have been the cause of much consternation and surmise. We will endeavour to give an outline of the case, as far as we are enabled to do so, from the materials within our reach.

Mr. and Mrs. James were well-to-do industrious people, the husband occasionally working as an agricultural labourer, and his wife conducted the business of a general shop. On the 13th of March Mrs. James complained of being unwell, and she took a small quantity of gin, a spirit she occasionally used when feeling unwell; on the next day she became worse, and on the 16th medical aid was called in, but it did not avail, and on the 24th she died. Previous to her death her husband became unwell, and vomited several times; he, too, it was found, had partaken of gin from the same jar. On the night of the 25th he became much worse, and a person, named Preston, was sent to Bampton for Mr. Madden, surgeon; but as the hour was early and the morning cold, he (Preston) had a glass of the gin, and before he had proceeded far on the way he became ill, and vomited; however, he reached Bampton, and summoned the medical gentleman; when he reached home he found himself worse, and complained of the gin.

In the meanwhile Mr. Taylor and his man (J. Long) had taken home the coffin for the wife, and they both partook of gin, and both suffered considerably, as did several other persons who had also tasted of the deleterious compound. Suspicions were now directed towards the gin, which was taken possession of and secured.

At eleven o'clock Mr. James died. Next day an inquest was held at the Chequers Inn, before Mr. F. Westell, deputy coroner, when evidence corroborating the above statement was given on oath, and tho following is an outline of it:

Mrs. Broadis, a nurse, said that Mr. James was taken with fits and vomiting at three o'clock on the morning of his death; at six she sent for Mr. Madden; deceased had been subject to fits; several persons had partaken of the gin, and they all suffered.

One witness said she had one "quilt " out of the bottle, and was ill.

The inquest was then adjourned till Monday to enable Mr. Madden to make a post mortem examination of the bodies, having received instructions to that effect from the coroner.

On Monday, on the re-assembling of the Jury, the following witnesses were heard.

John Long said he went with his master to assist in taking Mrs. James's coffin home; he had three glasses of gin; went home to supper; felt very sick, and vomited, and was unable to work the next day.

W. James, son of the deceased, said that he had some of the gin on the 25th, and felt ill.

Dr. A. Batt, of Witney, said he first saw Mrs. James on the 16th; she was sitting in a chair, and complained of cold; her countenance was tinged with bile, and she had pain in the shoulder blade. Saw her again on the 18th; found she had vomited and been much purged on the previous day; attended her in consequence of the illness of Mr.. Madden, of Bampton; that gentleman having got better, witness lost sight of the case.

Mr. Madden said that he made up the prescriptions of Dr. Batt, and afterwards prescribed himself, from reports; saw Mrs. James on the 21st, and found her in bed, unable to lie down; looked upon her as suffering from influenza and double bronchitis; the air tubes were loaded with mucus; hrr nervous system was very much excited, and she said she must die;. she vomited, and was purged a good deal, but saw no remains of either; the vomiting ceased for two days, but the purging continued; on examination of the stool, saw nothing unusual; her breathing was much oppressed; if no relief could be afforded, saw she must die; on the next day she died. From the fact that ten or twelve persons had all suffered after having partaken of the gin, he had no doubt poison had been mixed with it.

On making the post mortem examination of Mr. James, he saw that the state of the lungs was sufficient to cause death; could not undertake to say how far the deleterious compound had contributed to the fatal termination. Mr. Madden further said that he was called in to see Mr. James on the morning of the day on which he died ; found him suffering from epilepsy, which had attacked him at three o'clock, a.m.; several fits followed at short intervals, till eleven o'clock a.m., when he died; had previously attended him for epilepsy; was unable to state whether the attack of epilepsy was sua sponte [of its own accord], or had been induced by partaking of the gin.

On Sunday, assisted by Dr. Batt, ho made a post mortem examination of the bodies, but owing to the pressure of professional duties, declined to make an analysis of the portions which he had carefully sealed up for that purpose, but he advised that Prof. Taylor should be employed in that duty.

W. Taylor said he had some gin at James's house, and had been very ill in consequence.

John Preston Is a tailor, and resides at Brize-Norton. He had some gin at five o'clock in the morning, having been called by the son of deceased to go to Bampton to fetch Mr. Madden; felt very ill all that day and part of the next.

Mary Ann James Is the wife of deceased's son, William James; Mrs. James, her mother-in-law, was taken ill on the 13th; went to Mr. James's on an errand, and E. Broadist told her Mrs. James was ill; complained of a pain in her bowels and chest, but did not name any ground for her complaint; saw her again on the 14th; she was no better, but was up; visited her on the 15th and 16th, but she got no better; had some of the gin on tho 24th, but had not had any for two months previously; thought the gin looked very queer, and after she had tasted it observed it looked thick, and found her throat very hot; her husband was taken ill on the same day that Mrs. Railway came, which was the 17th; he vomited very much, and went to bed; did not see him take any gin, nor did ho express any suspicion of it; Taylor was the first person who complained that the gin had made him ill; the gin came on the 12th, which was the day before Mrs. James was taken ill.

William James, son of deceased, and husband of last witness, said he first saw his mother on the 16th, and called Dr. Batt to see her; did not see her vomit, but distinctly recollects seeing his father vomit on the 24th, as well as on the day of his death.

William Cantivell, shopman to Mr. Warrington, of Witney, spirit merchant, said the deceased, Mr. James, was in the habit of buying spirits from their house; the last lot (a gallon) was delivered on the 12th of March; on that day he put up several other quantities tor various individuals; he carefully washed each jar; the whole of them were filled from the standard cask in the shop, which holds 150 gallons; each jar was carefully corked and sealed, and then handed over to their carman tor delivery in the usual manner.

It is but justice to this witness to state that he gave his evidence in the most satisfactory manner. We may also state that not the slightest suspicion is entertained that the gin was adulterated before it reached the house of the deceased; but how, when, or by whom the deleterious substance was added, is at present a mystery.

After hearing several other witnesses, the inquest was adjourned to the 16th of April, in order to procure the authority of the Secretary of State to enable the Coroner to send the various matters to Professor Taylor for analysis.
So, what happened next, you ask? As far as I've been able to tell, not a damned thing. For whatever inexplicable reason, the gin was never analyzed, and the investigation dropped.  The story simply disappeared from the newspapers after this, leaving the answer to all these deaths and illnesses forever unknown to history.

Monday, September 23, 2019

This Hat's So Fly: Guest Post by Ella Bessmer

[For this week's post, I'm loaning the keys to Strange Company HQ over to Ella Bessmer, author of the new(ish) history blog, Now, Where Shall We Begin.  History is full of odd fashion fads, but only a select few resulted in a body count.  Ella's here to inform us about the popularity of one of these fashion disasters, and the efforts to eradicate it.]

Your Hat's So Fly...Not: The Sordid History Of The Plume Trade

Feathers. Soft, lux, elegance made tangible. Feathers have been significant amongst many global cultures and societies for thousands of years.

The Gilded Age was a period in US history lasting from the late 1800s to about 1900. It was a time of economic prosperity and massive industrial growth.

With increased economic prosperity and rapid industrial development, many people found they had more disposable income than ever before. Meanwhile, cities were becoming more urbanized. With this rise in population and the increased reliance on machinery and factories, city dwellers found themselves wanting more exposure to the natural world. People began to keep terrariums and aquariums. Taxidermied specimens became common in many households.

Eventually, clothing was influenced by this trend. Fashion began to reflect this interest in nature and the desire to own pieces of natural beauty and extravagance.

It was during this time that the plume was taken to a new, unprecedentedly morbid level.
Hats, a sartorial staple, started to be decorated with birds. Everything from entire owls, peacocks, and egrets, to parakeets, were being proudly displayed on the heads of fashionable Victorian women. No one gave a second thought to snapping up a hat adorned with a jewel-toned bird of paradise or an animated diving gull. Birds were seen as an inexhaustible resource, a product to be freely used.

The bird of paradise had what was termed “fancy feathers”. This meant that they had feathers that were hard to come by in the plume trade. As a result, they commanded higher prices.

One well-known anecdote that describes the variety of birds used for these hats came from an ornithologist named Frank Chapman. During two instances when he was walking down a street in Manhattan, Chapman was able to spot specimens from over forty species of birds on the hats of passersby.

But this craze for birds was not without detriment. Abroad and in the US, bird populations were being decimated. Snowy egret plumes, or aigrettes, brought the highest prices at market. At their highest rate, the feathers fetched a price of $510 per ounce. The birds were sought out for the extravagant plumage they had when they were nesting and mating. As a result of this, massive numbers of egrets were killed in their nests. This meant their now orphaned chicks were left to starve. At the height of the plume trade, many species of egrets were very nearly wiped out.

Women were unfairly blamed for the mass die-off of many species of birds.

Ornithologists were scared. They observed that over 50 varieties of birds were on the verge of extinction. Campaigns were started to curb this practice. One such campaign headed by the Royal Society For The Protection Of Birds was highly sexist in nature. They preached that the sole fault of the bird-killing trend fell upon women as they were the main consumers of the hats. The people in charge of the campaign chose to neglect the fact that men also played a role in the plume trade. Ironically enough, men were the ones responsible for the relentless hunt and acquisition of the birds as well as for the selling and production of the hats.

As this ineffective campaign went on, countless birds continued to be slaughtered.

Enter, Harriet Hemenway and her cousin, Minna Hall.

Harriet Hemenway was from a wealthy Boston family. She was well-educated and came from a family of political activists. Harriet was married to Augustus Brewster, a wealthy heir to a shipping company. He had a dedication to the natural world and devoted much of his time to preserving it. Augustus was one of the original members of the Metropolitan Park Commission, an organization that is still going strong today.

After reading an article about the horrors of the cruelty of the plume trade, Harriet was shocked and disgusted. With the support of Minna and her cousin, she set out to take down the barbaric plume trade. Their first mode of action; rallying people to join the cause.

Together, Harriet and Minna identified the names of the wealthiest women in society. They then invited them to a series of tea parties. At these parties, they urged the women to boycott the hats and join them in protesting the cruel feather trade. Some women refused to join the cause and left. The ones that stayed swore off wearing feathers and joined the movement.

Eventually, the women worked out an effective strategy. They planned to have their protest target primarily upper-class women, the main consumers of the hats, rather than the people responsible for the creation of the hats.

Harriet Hemenway, conservationist, leader, BAMF

These parties proved to be a rousing success. During the time in which the society had been meeting, the movement amassed the support of over 900 women. These women, in turn, recruited men to the movement, furthering visibility for their cause in the political sphere.

Despite this, more visibility was needed. It was the late 1800’s and the women's right to vote had not passed. Harriet knew she would have to enlist the help of men to get any political friction with the movement. She recruited scientists and prominent male figures to join the cause.

Through the collective efforts of the community they had formed, in 1896 Minna and Harriet came to found the Massachusetts Audobon Society. The society was named after the famed painter, James Audobon, who was known for his lifelike portraits of birds. The Audobon society was (and continues to be) a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve the biodiversity and habitats of birds and other wildlife. The creation of the original Massachusetts chapter led to the development of other Audobon societies in 12 states. The Audobon society later would come to be instrumental in the passage of the Lacey Act in 1900, which banned the trafficking of illegal wildlife in the United States.

The Lacey Act was a huge achievement for the conservation movement. It created severe penalties for people who illegally transported wildlife. Despite this, the plume industry was still killing birds in record numbers. The Lacey Act had been beneficial but had failed to shut down the interstate feather trade. Milliners had switched from using egrets to using shorebirds and wading birds. As a result, these populations were now threatened.

A tragic image detailing some of the many victims of the plume trade.

When others voiced their opposition to using birds on hats, milliners said that stopping the feather trade would result in many people losing their jobs. They dismissed the supporters of the anti-plume movement saying they were too weak and sentimental.

When questioned about the source of their feathers, suppliers would claim that their hats were only adorned with found feathers (only a small percentage of them were). This gave some consumers peace of mind, but by this point, more politicians and conservationists were starting to take action to stop the industry.

In 1913, the Weaks-McLean Law, otherwise known as the Migratory Bird Law, was passed. It was a direct result of the work of the Audobon society. This act was later replaced by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 due to a constitutional weakness ( it was passed as a rider to an appropriation bill for the Department of Agriculture). This act prohibited the hunting and illegal transport of wildlife, essentially protecting birds from people. It took the federal legislation of the MBTA to put an end to the plume movement. As a direct result of this law, bird populations that had been killed for the millinery industry have since rebounded to their previous levels.

President Theodore Roosevelt established Pelican Island in 1903 for birds from plume hunters. Its creation leads to a trend in other bird refuges being created.

As times and fashions changed and new laws were instated, feathers were no longer sought after. Hats were now being decorated with ribbons and fabric. As a result of this, hunters who had previously relied on the plume trade were forced to find other ways to make a living.

As feathered hats lost popularity, ribbon and hats with smaller brims became fashionable.

The movement, originally organized against the use of birds and their feathers, set the precedent for other protective conservation legislation.

I am eternally grateful for the incredible, unceasing efforts of these early pioneers. Because of them, we are still able to enjoy the elegance of the majestic snowy egret and american egret, as well as the marvels of other incredible bird species.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

What parallels can we draw between the modern-day fur and ivory trade and the plume trade?

What other impacts did the plume trade on the conservation movement?

Further Reading:


This article details the parallels between the plume trade and the modern-day fur trade.


This post describes how the plume trade and the era of extermination lead to many modern conservation successes.


A fascinating article that goes into how the plume trade became an international industry stretching as far as Australia.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is hosted by one of the most popular members of our writing team, Ginger the Typing Cat!

Why the hell are fossils mostly male?

Watch out for the Bromley Batman!

Watch out for those black mirrors!

The tragic life of Queen Juana of Castile.

They're not saying it's aliens, but...oh, hold on.  They are saying that.

If you thought phrenology was weird, meet the science of reading forehead wrinkles.

Why New Yorkers once burned down a quarantine hospital.

The actress and the drunken coachman.

A Regency poisoning.

The folklore of mining.

The mystery of the burning stones.

A look at some groundbreaking surgeries.

Mayor O'Dwyer and the Mob.

A ghoulish trade in second-hand clothes.

A famed 19th century American policeman.

The Rodney Riots and the publishing house.

They may have found Captain Cook's Endeavour.

How to make your own 18th century lip salve.

Psychics sometimes get it right.

The rise and fall of absinthe.

A girl's concentration camp diary.

The strange story of the Acambaro figure.

The mad scientist and his corpse bride.

How to have a theater waste a year of your life.

Some murders may be unsolved, but they're not all that mysterious.

This week in Russian Weird gets romantic. Oh, and nothing to worry about here.  Just exploding smallpox virus.

Google Earth solves a missing-persons case.

Piano prodigy Blind Tom Wiggins.

In case you're planning to make knives with human poop, science has bad news for you.  (Incidentally, one thing I've learned from reading about archaeologists is that they spend an inordinate amount of time working with human waste.  Makes me a bit relieved that I never pursued my early dreams of taking it up as a career.)

In related news, it turns out archaeology is child's play.  Just wait till the kids learn they have to make the knives.

And that's it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll welcome in a guest post discussing a fashion fad that was truly for the birds. In the meantime, as this is the final WLD of Summer 2019, I thought this seemed appropriate.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This account of a particularly pesky UFO appeared in the "Dayton Daily News," March 3, 1971:
By Dale Huffman, Daily News Staff Writer. According to Leon Turner, there's a weirdly lighted unidentified spacecraft of some sort hovering over the Dayton area. It swoops down and buzzes 1-75 traffic and frequently, in the past five months, it has followed Turner's automobile.

Turner, 30, who lives at 110 Vandergrift Rd., says he has seen the spacecraft several times. Furthermore, some, of Turner's friends have seen it, too.

Turner describes himself as sound of mind and body and says his 20-20 vision was checked just last week. He says his incredible story of the spacecraft is "Absolutely true... and I'll swear by it."

He says it all started last Sept. 1 while Turner was working as an engineer at radio station WPFB in Middletown.

"I was on the job at the station." he recalled, "when some kid called and said he saw the strange lights near the station transmitter.

"I called Noah Gross, a minister who has a show which is broadcast on WPFB. He lives near the tower. Noah and his wire and kids went out, and they called me back. Noah was quite shaken up.

"He told me, 'Buddy, there's something right above the trees, hovering. There's a red and green pulsating light, and like fire falling from the sky.'"

Turner said he went looking for the craft when he got off work. "I drove around most of the night, and then about daybreak I saw it. It was just like they described it, red and green, with pulsating lights, and it skipped across the top of the trees at a high rate of speed."

Turner said he saw the spacecraft again nine days later and observed it through high-powered binoculars for about five minutes. He said he saw it several times after that.

Bill Hart, general manager of WPFB and his wife, Jerry, women's director for the station, both claim they saw the red and green object one night. Mrs. Hart said, "It is definitely not a plane or helicopter. I know a plane when I see one."

Turner, who said the continuing experience is somewhat frightening, said he doesn't know exactly what the craft is, but theorized that it "isn't from this world." He believes it may be following him because, "I got curious about whoever it was." And even thought Turner has changed jobs (he now drives a truck) he said he hasn't been able to shake the space craft.

"Now I think the thing is following my truck at night," he said. "I think saw it on 1-75 near Vandalia when I was coming home Monday night."
On March 29, 1978, the same newspaper carried a follow-up story.
"I've gone as far as I'm going to go with them," says Leon Turner. "The next move is up to whoever, or whatever, is in those UFOs. They will have to land, get out, and offer to shake hands with me."

Some of the hundreds of Dayton area residents who claim they have seen strange objects in the skies over the Miami Valley in the last 30 years have had closer encounters with the objects than others. Leon Turner is one of them.

Turner says UFOs followed him almost nightly for nearly six months. He claims he took pictures of these "spacecraft," and he has some rather unusual photographs to prove it. He also believes he made voice contact with UFO occupants via the citizens band radio in his car.

For a long time, Leon Turner worried if others believed the bizarre stories he told. He doesn't worry about it any more. "I know what I saw, what I experienced," he says. "I didn't imagine any of it or make it up. It really happened to me and that's the God's truth."

From Sept. 2, 1970 until Dec. 25, 1970, Turner kept a diary detailing his frequent encounters with what be believes were UFOs. Turner, now 37 and an employee of the Purolator Corp. in Dayton, was an engineer at radio station WPFB in Middletown when he compiled the diary.

According to his diary, Turner first sighted a UFO on Sept. 2, 1970. "It was about 1 a.m. and I was in Franklin," he wrote. "The UFOs appeared as four bright red lights 'standing' just above the tops of some trees. I watched them for a moment, then they disappeared."

The next entry in his diary is dated Sept. 9.

"I was in Franklin again," he observed. "There was a greenish-blue light in the sky, about 300 feet off the ground and traveling parallel with my car. I observed it for five minutes with my 8x40 binoculars. During these five minutes I saw the light move at speeds that would stun one's imagination."

Later the same day, he wrote: "I saw a red and green light pass over the radio station. I placed the altitude at 1,000 feet. It was noiseless. Then it stopped and remained in the exact spot for 2 1/2 hours. At 11 p.m. it disappeared."

On Sept. 10, Turner told of following a UFO from Franklin to Xenia.

"On one side, the craft had a standard red running light, on the other side, a green light. The distance between the two lights seemed to be 30 to 50 feet. At one point, when the craft was hovering about 100 feet off the ground, I observed it for about two minutes. I was close enough to the craft to have thrown a rock at it. There was no sound whatsoever. I could not tell if there was a dome or bubble on top of the craft."

Turner reported seeing four more UFOs near the radio station on the night of Sept. 11. And on Sept 20, he wrote, "I was on my way home from work when, for the first time, I realized these flying objects were actually following me home each night. I have no idea why they are following me, unless It is because I know they are here and I am watching them all of the time. There is no other reason I can think of."

On Sept. 21, Turner wrote that he and a friend, Bill Carney, who at that time was a newsman at WPFB, observed three UFOs on Upper Bellbrook Rd. and four days later, on Sept. 25, Turner wrote, "A UFO followed me home from work again this morning."

Turner noted in his diary that UFOs didn't follow him much during the month of October and then, on Nov. 7, he wrote: "When I left the side door of the (radio) station and approached my car, I noticed a UFO circling the station. I watched this craft for a minute, then got In the car and decided to take 1-75 home. Just as I pulled onto 1-75, there they were, waiting just over the first group of trees off to the left of the southbound lanes.

"I watched them zip over the tops of the trees and fly parallel with me as they have done many, many nights. The red flasher lights (on the UFOs) were going. I could observe goldish-looking lights, too, as If they were coming from a cabin or cockpit of some sort. They zipped along beside me all the way to the edge of Dayton, then I saw them go over the top of the Dayton Power and Light Co. station. I didn't see them again that night."

Turner recorded UFO sightings on Nov. 9, Nov. 15 and Nov. 17. On Nov. 18 he wrote, "I was driving on 1-75 and when I got to the Rt. 725 exit, a UFO came over the interstate and headed east just in front of my car and approximately 300 feet In the air. I grabbed my flashlight and began signaling the craft, but this was to no avail. Then the idea struck me to pick up the CB walkie-talkie, Just for the fun of it. I did not expect anyone or anything to hear me.

"Nevertheless, I began transmitting. I said, 'Hello. Can you hear me up there?' Just seconds after I released the transmitter button, a strange and uncanny piercing sound came from the receiver for a good 20 seconds. It was an eerie kind of sound. At first, it really did give me the creeps. Believe me, the sound was very loud and strong. After 20 seconds, the sound stopped and I heard a voice. But I could not understand one word that was being said.

"All the rest of the way home (a distance of about 15 miles) I tried to make contact with whoever or whatever it was that had contacted me. But that was the only transmission I heard from the UFO. One thing I can say for sure, I have never heard this sound before and, if I ever hear it again, believe me I will know it."

Turner spotted UFOs on Nov. 21, but his attempts to make CB contact with the objects failed. On Nov. 22, after observing a UFO on Woodman Dr. in Dayton and another on Smithville Rd., Turner said, "I think these UFOs are trying to lure me into following them, as I am sure they intend on picking me up sometime. But it appears they like to play games with me. I haven't the slightest idea how long they intend to follow me, watch my house, play their little game. But you can be sure of one thing they have a reason for it. And I believe the reason is they actually intend on taking me captive in their craft. However, I have no idea when this will occur."

On the morning of Nov. 23, Turner was driving on Harshman Rd. when he saw a UFO that had been following him go down behind some trees. Turner said he drove home and got his CB walkie-talkie. "When I turned it on, there were two women talking on the channel. One of them goes by the nickname 'Blondie.' They talked for awhile, then I heard the strange and uncanny sound I heard be fore. I knew the spacemen were going to talk. Then the voice of a man came on and he was talking in an unknown language. Someone answered his call in the same language. Then the women came back on, then I heard the man's voice again. This time it seemed almost as if I could understand him. It sounded as if he said, 'Ungunther, that's a bad ship to be on.'"

In his diary, Turner reported sighting UFOs south of Dayton on Dec. 2, Dec. 13 and again on Dec. 15. Turner ended his diary on Christmas Day 1970 with the report that a UFO followed him from Middletown to Dayton.

Today, Turner says he sees things now and then that are "out of the ordinary" but not with the frequency of 1970. Looking back, he says a lot of people "thought I was nuts" in those days. "A few of my closest friends believed me, but that's about all."

He says he hasn't changed his mind about what he experienced eight years ago. "I believe those flying objects were manned by beings from outer space and I believe they were trying to make contact with me. Maybe they really did make contact and I just wasn't sharp enough to detect it. "I know a lot of the things that happened to me were very frightening. I'll never forget them. Never."

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Blue-Eyed Boy: An Unusual Ghost Story

Nicholas Monsarrat had a long and distinguished career as an author. He is probably best remembered today for the 1951 novel, "The Cruel Sea," and 1952's "The Story of Esther Costello." When he was visiting a Quebec shooting-lodge in 1953, he was told a story which was as compelling--and far stranger--than anything in his fiction. Some time later, he wrote an account of his eerie experience, which was published in Peter Haining's "The Mammoth Book of True Hauntings." Although his tale is impossible to verify, it is unique enough to warrant our notice.

Monsarrat heard his story from another guest at the lodge, someone he identified only as "George." The man was a stranger to him, and an actor to boot, so Monsarrat acknowledged that the tale "may well have been a pack of lies." However, at the time, at least, he believed it.

Earlier, Monsarrat had commented to "George" about the man's son, a boy eight or nine years old. The youngster had amazing eyes--enormous in size, the brightest of blue, and with an expression of "staring at the universe as if he did not believe any of it." To look into those eyes was like "gazing through a window into unfathomable depths." George merely replied calmly, "He's always looked like that."

George was a Hungarian by birth, although after living in Canada all his adult life and marrying a Canadian girl, he considered himself a fully integrated citizen of that country. He often got roles playing native Canadians. Just before his son was born, George's mother came from Hungary to help raise the baby, and generally get to know her first grandchild.

The elderly woman was very much "old school." She was of uneducated peasant stock, who spoke no English and had absolutely no interest in "Canadianizing" herself. In fact, she was horrified by the way her son had "gone modern" and abandoned his Hungarian heritage. She became increasingly worried that her grandson would do the same. She did not want him to grow up ignorant of his Hungarian roots. "Let me have four years," she begged her son and daughter-in-law. "Just a little time--enough for the language and some of the old customs. Then he will be yours again."

George's wife, it was inferred, was not altogether enamored of the idea. George himself, however, agreed--partly for the sake of avoiding discord, and partly because he didn't think it was a half-bad plan. He felt his mother had done a fine job of raising him. Why not give his son the same benefit?

It will remain forever unknown just how this unconventional scheme would have worked out. Shortly after the baby was born, George's mother suddenly died. The old Hungarian woman was clearly strong-willed and fond of doing things her way, but Death is more powerful than any mere human.

Well, maybe.

George's son was handsome, healthy, well-behaved. A perfect child in every respect but one: he never spoke, or, indeed, made any sounds at all. He just stared at the world with those enormous blue orbs...in utter silence. All the doctors and specialists who examined him were baffled. They found nothing at all to explain this unsettling muteness. All they could suggest was that the boy was "a late developer."

This state of affairs continued until the child was three years old. Then, one night, George and his wife came home late from a party. They were startled to hear an unfamiliar voice emanating from upstairs. They went immediately to their son's bedroom. He was standing up in his cot, staring at a corner of the room, speaking rapidly and fluently in Hungarian--a language to which the child had never been exposed.

The next morning, the boy relapsed into his usual silence. This lasted until he was four years old, when he suddenly began to speak perfect English.

With a strong Hungarian accent.

George's mother had had her way.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

It's Link Dump time!

Everybody dance!

Why it took so long to avenge a rape/murder.

When is someone really dead?  The answer can be...complicated.

Why you don't want to make a pet out of a mummified cat.

Nothing to see here, just a killer slime taking over France.

A dog's problematic funeral.  (Reminiscent of the saga of Billy Hansbrough.)

It seems that the editor of Encyclopedia Britannica had an even more interesting side gig.

You wouldn't want a giant asteroid to hit the earth again.  It would really ruin your day.  Not to mention your species.

The misadventures of HMS Wager.

George Africanus: from slave to successful English businessman.

Contemporary news reports about the development of the polio vaccine.

The week wouldn't be complete without a post about hallucinogenic giraffe livers.

If you're looking for a campsite, it might be best to ignore Braley Pond.

Why John Dillinger is still causing trouble.

An 18th century female fossil hunter.

An asylum for the deaf and dumb children of the poor.

This is pretty horrible: dogs are dying in Norway, and nobody knows why.

The stone that protects London.

Finding the Devil in Swanton Morley.

Jane Austen's sister-in-law.

I'll say this for the Devil; no one can top him as a disciplinarian.

Europe's lost continent.

A husband-murderer's dreadful end.

The most haunted forest in Romania.

Believe it or not, it isn't a good idea to swallow padlocks.

You're best off not swallowing flies, either.

A brief history of the real Downton Abbey.

A fugitive's strange suicide.

A notorious novel goes on trial.

Beau Nash and the Rules of Bath.

How 19th century streetcars led to giant cats.

Dueling, Andrew Jackson style.

The inventor who made ghosts.

The importance of a worm fossil.

A dentist/firearms inventor.

The Crusader Earl.

Medieval wine-making.

The world's oldest city.

The Case of the Disappearing Observatory.

That does it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at a unique ghost story. In the meantime, yet another classic summer song:

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

Hey, everyone always likes a good "grave-robber gets his comeuppance" story, right? This one is courtesy of the "Windsor Review," May 19, 1892:
The German Lutheran cemetery is situated in close proximity to Graceland, and in it are buried thousands of what were once good, sensible, jolly Germans of Chicago, both male and female. One of the bodies that lies there is that of a stout hardware dealer who used to keep a prospering store on Milwaukee avenue, near Noble street. He was taken sick one day and died, and his family shortly after got into straitened circumstances. His pretty young daughter, Ida by name, likewise sickened and died.

Her death occurred at the hospital, and some of the features of the disease which carried her off were of unusual interest from a purely scientific standpoint. As nobody had claimed the body for a day or two orders were given to have it taken to the dissecting-room and there explored for the benefit of budding M.D.s. But the mother of the girl all the while had been exerting herself among her friends to raise money enough to afford her poor child a decent burial, and at last she had succeeded. So just in the nick of time the old mother presented herself at the county hospital and claimed and obtained the body of her child. On the same day was the funeral.

What followed is given here on the authority of William Zengg, who at tho time was employed as gravedigger around the German Lutheran cemetery: It appears that a hanger-on at one of the medical colleges took it upon himself to disinter the body of the young girl and turn it over, in exchange for a snug little sum, to the janitor of that college. As this resurrectionist on a moist, foggy night in October, 1887 approached the newly-made grave of his intended victim, he was startled and scared beyond measure by the apparition of a stout, husky man looking straight and threateningly at him. The apparition was that of the recently deceased father of the dead girl, keeping watch at the grave of his daughter to guard it against desecration. The would-be grave robber was so utterly demoralized by the unearthly sight that met his eyes that he threw down his tools--spade and all--and fled.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Queen of the Hunter River: The Odyssey of Molly Morgan

"Sydney Morning Herald," July 6, 1965, via Newspapers.com

Laura Thatcher Ulrich famously wrote that "well-behaved women seldom make history." I've always thought of that quote as one of those clever-sounding quips that, on reflection, just ain't so. And then I come across Molly Morgan, a woman who brought herself to fame and fortune simply because throughout her long life, she was anything but well-behaved.

The exact birthdate of Mary "Molly" Jones is unrecorded, but it was presumably just before her baptism in the English village of Diddlebury on January 31, 1762. About all we know for certain about her family life is that her father, David Jones, was a ratcatcher. When Molly was in her early teens, she left school to become a dressmaker. In 1783, she gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, also named Mary. The father is unknown, but he was rumored to be a wealthy farmer who refused to marry her. On June 25, 1785, she wed a wheelwright and carpenter named William Morgan. The couple soon had a son, James.

Molly's life was a quiet and ordinary one until 1789, when she and her husband were caught with linen which had been stolen from a bleaching factory. William was able to escape custody before facing trial, and promptly disappeared. In August 1789, Molly was tried at the Shrewsbury Assizes, convicted, and sentenced to fourteen years transportation to Australia. (It is not recorded who took charge of Molly's children, who were now essentially orphaned.)

Molly's run of bad luck continued when she was assigned to the ship "Neptune" for the journey. The Neptune was one of the most notorious of the convict "hell-ships." Captains of these ships were paid per prisoner--the number of convicts who actually survived the voyage was a matter of supreme indifference to authorities. The expense of feeding their unwilling passengers came out of the captains' own pockets. Therefore, it was seen as sensible business practice among the more heartless commanders to cram as many captives on their ships as possible, and let starvation and disease eliminate extra mouths to feed. Molly and the five hundred other prisoners on the Neptune stood a small chance of reaching their destination alive.

Molly, however, had some advantages most of her fellow convicts lacked. She was very attractive, very resourceful, and very, very determined to survive. Legend has it that by the simple expedient of providing sexual favors to certain of the ship's officers, she was provided with extra rations and better overall treatment than the other prisoners. By the time the Neptune arrived in Sydney Harbor, more than half of the convicts were dead or nearly so. Molly, on the other hand, was in perfect health and raring to start her new life.

She really must have been something.

In Sydney, Molly was reunited with her husband, who had been recaptured and also packed off to Australia. After a period of factory work, the couple was granted parole, and they opened a shop.

Sadly, the Morgan domestic life was not proceeding as smoothly as their professional affairs. Molly had grown bored with William, and had taken to consorting with other men. Her husband eventually grew tired of wearing cuckold's horns, and abandoned her. (William Morgan eventually started a new, and hopefully happier, family with another woman. He evidently managed to stay out of further trouble until his death in 1828.)

Molly seems to have scarcely noticed he had gone. She had become the mistress of the captain of a store-ship, John Locke. She saw that her new lover's profession could come in very useful to her. On November 9, 1794, Molly, along with three other convicts, managed to stow away on Locke's ship before it sailed to England.

When they were back in England, Locke offered to marry Molly, but she declined. His value to her now over, Molly left her captain and traveled to Plymouth. She recovered her children and found work as a dressmaker. A rich brassfounder named Thomas Mears fell under her clearly still-abundant charms, and married her. Of course, Molly was still legally wed to William Morgan, but she saw that as one of those irrelevant details not worth mentioning.

End of the story? Hardly. With women like Molly Morgan, the good times never cease to roll. In 1803, the Mears home was destroyed by a mysterious fire, and Thomas, for reasons that are now uncertain, accused his wife of setting the blaze. We can take that to mean the romance was definitely over. In October of that year, Molly stood trial for neglecting to honor a promissory note. She was found guilty and sentenced, again, to transportation. (Molly's son was sent to live with relatives, after which he ran away to join the royal marines. The fate of Molly's daughter is unknown.)

Upon her return to Sydney in June 1804, Molly prospered well enough, thanks to a number of well-to-do "protectors," and she was granted a small piece of land and a few cattle. This just led her to fresh trouble. The local authorities couldn't help but notice that Molly's livestock was growing in size far too rapidly to be the product of mother nature. It was soon found that Molly, a true believer that the Lord helps those who help themselves, had been rounding up government cattle and branding them as her own.

Government officials do not react well to having their pockets picked. In 1816, Molly was sentenced to seven years in Newcastle Penal Colony, a place where Australia's worst offenders were kept in the harshest conditions. She dealt with this latest setback in characteristic fashion: it is said she became the mistress of one of the prison's overseers, who, in 1819, managed to have her granted parole.

She really must have been something.

Molly was sent to the settlement of Wallis Plains, where she was again given a plot of land. She did very well as a farmer, and used her profits to open a highly successful wine shanty. (She soon also started an equally popular inn.) In 1822, she married an Army Officer named Thomas Hunt, who was thirty years her junior. In 1823, she was doing so well financially that the Governor allowed her to lease another 159 acres, along with a gang of convicts to farm the land. By 1828, she was listed as being one of the largest landowners in the area, and was known as "The Queen of the Hunter River." Several land features were named after her, and her inn and wine shanty were the nucleus for what eventually became the city of Maitland.

Molly used her wealth to be a force for good. She was well-known for her philanthropic acts and generosity to the poor. She helped build schools and hospitals, and often spoke in defense of convicts. Unfortunately, there were many who took advantage of her open-handedness, and the one-time thief was frequently robbed, with the result that her final years found her in relatively straitened circumstances. After her death on June 27, 1835, an anonymous newspaper obituary writer mourned that "her latter days were not those of enjoyment of the comforts of this life to which she was entitled from the numerous acts of kindness she had evinced to all around her."

She was undoubtedly still rich in memories, however.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

The first Link Dump of September is here!

And our host for this week is jumping for joy!

Photo: Edouard Boubat

That old question:  How the hell did Meriwether Lewis die?

That even older question:  How the hell did Alexander the Great die?

Where the hell are South Africa's great white sharks?

How London heard about the battle of Waterloo.

They probably just found the remains of one of Napoleon's favorite General.

The first American settlers may have been Japanese.

Oh, just another wedding featuring an exploding goose.

The real-life adventures of a Samurai warrior.

An Amazon warrior in Mongolia.

The Victorian ice cream queen.

The code breakers of Renaissance Venice.

If you want to meet a ghost, your best bet is to go on a nighttime walk in Bristol.

This week in Russian Weird features the world's busiest apartment.  Frankly, those photos made me dizzy.

Yet another (probably justifiably) obscure playwright.

An ancient earthquake detector.

Why becoming a human salamander probably isn't the best career choice.

How a pioneering case of plastic surgery took place at a livestock auction.

Why Nessie might just be a freaking big eel.

Rosa Halliday, child thief.

The strange case of the Sonora Aero Club.

A librarian's death in WWI.

The notorious Doctor Dee.

When missing pet posters become art.

The worst room in the Tower of London.

The changing image of Maid Marian.

The hurricane that sank Spain.

A scandalous abduction in India.

Charles Dickens and the dishonest ticket collector.

It only makes sense that Dead Man's Curve would have a ghost.

That time men became infested with lice for the good of their country.

When you steal the bones of a Scottish witch, you're just begging to star in a M.R. James story.

The miser's stinking rich granddaughter.

Words matter, folks.

This is why we can't have nice archaeological relics.

The apparition at Knockmore.

A chat with mourning stationery.

The most glamorous beach parties of the 1920s.

The real story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

The East India Company and London's Great Fire.

In which we learn that Future Life Progression is A Thing.

Queen Victoria visits France.

The execution of William Kidd.

The execution of a dirty poet.

To be honest, I find this extremely creepy.

The cats of Spitalfields.

A witchcraft case from Cornwall.

A probable murderer gets away with it.

The execution of a Danish infanticide.

Mystery Fires in Louisiana.

Courthouse records of vagrant wizards and violent clowns.

The actress who became a real Lady.

Trepanation: you need it like you need a hole in your head.

Manly salads!

Another example of the hellish world of the theater.

And that's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a colorful woman from Australian history.  In the meantime, even though Labor Day has come and gone, it's still officially summer.  (I have the mosquito bites to prove it.)  So, bring on the Drifters!